As we all come to terms with the fading days of summer, minds turn to the challenges facing councillors across the city-region. Many of the difficulties to be faced this autumn, and on into the winter, are entirely down to the failure of councils to act responsibly, despite having a mandate to do so. Important although it is, finance – and government imposed austerity – is not the only issue to be resolved.
Take, for example, the ongoing saga of Liverpool’s failed development projects, and the scams associated with them. No one can say that the mayor and council were not aware of what was going on. Naturally, although it now claims otherwise, the mealy-mouthed Echo failed in its duty to inform the wider public of the truth, until forced to do so by the pressure brought to bear by private citizens and defrauded investors. Even now, they give an extremely partial version of events. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the belated posturing of the Echo, the councillors themselves were most certainly informed of the burgeoning scandal.
Now there has been an announcement of a council panel to look at the root of the scams – what is known as fractional selling of properties not yet built. As usual, the council (or the mayor) has been slow to react; but what is proposed is wholly unsatisfactory. Firstly, the panel which has been assembled to examine the issue is comprised solely of councillors. With great respect to the members of that panel, one must wonder at their qualifications for this particular job, given the councillors’ collective failure to address the problem even as the council’s coffers and investors were being ripped off. There will be little faith in their objectivity in the matter.
Secondly, it is not clear what the terms of reference for this panel’s work are. Fractional selling is only part of the problem. What about the council’s failure to exercise due diligence when dealing with the cowboys involved in the failed developments? Are panel councillors to beat their breasts for the collective failure of the council and the mayor on so many levels? I doubt it. It is why only an independent panel, chaired by a reputable and knowledgeable person, is able to do the job required, if there is to be a credible outcome.
Meanwhile, I note that Liverpool’s mayor is to meet the EFC owner this coming week for discussions. With every passing day, it appears that there are increasing doubts about the viability of the mayor’s irresponsible proposal to borrow money to finance a new EFC stadium. Perhaps the rumours are true that Mr Moshiri’s sidekick – Russian oligarch Mr Alisher Usmanov – will buy into EFC now that he has sold his interest in Arsenal FC. For his part, the mayor should be more focussed on Operation Sheridan in Lancashire. We know about the involvement of three former Liverpool Council senior executives in Lancashire’s One Direct organisation. It now transpires that there are four additional unnamed suspects whose files have been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration for prosecution – and the police have yet to decide on the scandal of our equivalent organisation- Liverpool Direct – in their work.
It is not as if it is only Liverpool’s council facing difficulties in the weeks and months ahead. I note that Knowsley Council’s returning officer, amid claims of bullying at polling stations, felt it necessary to publicly appeal for calm in the recent Halewood South by-election. The ruling Labour group was nervously trying to ensure the quick return to the council of former aspiring council leader, Gary See. Their worry was that their dominant position in the council would be weakened with the loss of a seat in an area which has always, until this year, been a shoo-in for Labour candidates.
Meanwhile, I am being told that the Labour leadership on Wirral council – the Chuckle Brothers of the Labour group, Phil and George Davies – could be on their way out. They stand accused, amongst other things, of being out of touch with both their members and the electorate. Problems range from Peel’s failure to come good on their exaggerated promises for the Twelve Quays site, to catastrophic misjudgement on green spaces proposals. There is real anger across the borough and someone will carry the can. Perhaps they will learn that with power comes responsibility.
One thing is certain. The city-region is never short of controversy; nor can we be surprised at whatever turns up next. I will be looking at the Labour Party annual conference to see who gives to delegates the traditional welcoming address. It is normally the role of the ceremonial Lord Mayor, but I wonder if the executive mayor’s ego leads him to try to muscle in on his party’s showpiece.